Trent Kaniuga: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sumi-e Style

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leonardo TMNT art

“Cowabunga, dudes!” says Trent Kaniuga at the start of his latest YouTube video. The man has a way with an intro.

One of the reasons we like Trent so much is that he always has such excellent commentary in his videos. Watching people draw is fun, but watching someone who can really teach you something along the way is a rare skill. This time around, Trent tackles Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but not in his usual character art style. He’s going with sumi-e style.

Sumi-e: a Perfect Match for TMNT

You probably recognize sumi-e paintings, even if you don’t know the term. It’s a simplified, ancient (2,000 year old) East Asian brush painting technique that is pretty much all about ink, water, paper, and brush strokes. It’s not at all about perfection. Rather, it’s about invoking Zen-inspired feelings and dealing with just ink and water. Color is usually absent or toned down in these kinds of drawings. It’s a style of art that strives for a messy perfection, and Trent jumps into his sumi-e inspired drawing of Leonardo with a focus on creating “controlled chaos.”

As Trent details in the video, when he was but a lad he stumbled on a comic entitled How to Draw Ninja Turtles which taught him that basics of character art. It was one of the first comics he got and one that got him into drawing in the first place. He went on to draw tons of bad art with a Sharpie, but he gradually got better and better.

Setting Guidelines When Practicing

Trent set himself a few guidelines for this practice session:

  • A sleek, muscular look that favors agility over brawn.
  • A bit of quick research on katanas to make sure the sword he includes is interesting and true to life.
  • Greyscale only using a grainy pencil and an oil paint brush that deliberately don’t draw fine details (both from his own brush set)

We’re big followers of Trent, so we can see that this drawing is a lot more intuitive than something like his recent Ghost in the Shell character art, which took him 15-16 hours on to draw every detail. This one is more about embracing imperfection — and even using mistakes to your advantage. Less intention, less control, more flow.

The end result this is a very painterly drawing that we absolutely love. Check it out:

Like sumi-e? Get the Brush Set

If you’ve ever wanted to try this style out, we’ve got you covered. We created a Sumi-e Brush Set along with some background on the “Four Gentlemen” — classic seasonal drawings that sumi-e students practice during their training. Download the set and try your hand at drawing the Orchid (Spring), Bamboo (Summer), Plum Blossom (Winter), and Chrysanthemum (Autumn).